Taking it outside

Aug. 21, 2013 @ 06:22 PM

Perhaps one of the most dramatic reactions yet to the just-concluded N. C. General Assembly session was Ellie Kinnaird’s surprise announcement Monday that she was relinquishing her seat in the State Senate.

Kinnaird, a Democrat, was in her ninth term representing Orange and Chatham counties.  As might be expected from a politician who has been mayor of Carrboro and regularly won elections in a district that centers on Chapel Hill, Kinnaird was a tireless crusader for and supporter of liberal causes.  Her stands and those of her like-minded colleagues fared badly in a legislative session dominated by conservative Republicans enjoying control of the legislature and governor’s office for the first time since the 19th century.

Kinnaird, in announcing her decision to call it quits, characterized the majority’s raft of legislative changes as “a shocking reversal of the many progressive measures that I and many others have worked so hard to enact: measures that over the year had made North Carolina a model of moderate-to-progress, pro-business but also pro-people public policy in the South.”

We suspect that many of her Democratic colleagues share the depth of her dismay. Some may well elect not to run for re-election next year if they perceive they face further legislative disappointment. But so far, none has taken the step of bailing out mid-term.

One can view that decision a number of ways. Many of her ideological opponents no doubt will breathe a sigh of relief – although it’s highly likely her successor will share many of her positions. 

Others, friend and foe alike, may roll their eyes and characterize the move as a petulant or callow “taking my ball and going home” stance in the face of unaccustomed minority status. 

In many ways, we wish Kinnaird had stayed in the legislative arena, not just for her policy contributions but also for the example she served for many. As Chapel Hill Town Councilwoman Sally Greene noted, “especially to those of us who are women in elected office, she was and remains an inspiration.”

But we also can understand the dilemma that often confronts someone in her position:

Can I exercise more influence fighting from within – or taking up a pulpit on the outside?

Kinnaird opted for the latter. She plans to sign on to the “Moral Monday” activism spearheaded by state NAACP President William Barber, and to work particularly to overcome the roadblocks erected by the new voter identification law.

“I am working with others on a grassroots project to make sure everyone in the state has a proper voter ID so that no votes are denied, even though the Voter ID bill is aimed at exactly that – repressing the vote,” Kinnaird said.

We applaud that sentiment.

Kinnaird will be missed in the State Senate – but we look forward to her energy, passion and commitment continuing to focus on the causes she has championed, simply championing them in another way.